As Greg Kot and I gear up for this weekend’s airing of our favorite episode of Sound Opinions all year—the annual Best-Of Recap—here is part two of my look at my Top 30, starting from the bottom and working toward No. 1.
Today: numbers 20 to 11. (See: Numbers 30-21)
20. Willis Earl Beal, Nobody Knows (XL Recordings)
This former bedroom artist may be a true eccentric and a real original, but that doesn’t mean his music isn’t accessible to the rest of us, especially now that he’s realized his vision in a proper studio with a crack band, making his search for true and meaningful connections in this instant-gratification world of digital emphemera all the more poignant and infectious. Here is my review for this blog, and here is a performance and interview by Beal on Sound Opinions.
19. MGMT, MGMT (Columbia)
Though it quickly became a staple on the festival circuit, MGMT previously left me cold on album. But the group finally gets it right on album number three, working again with Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann, evoking what the Syd Barrett Pink Floyd’s “Bike” might have sounded like if produced by the Aphex Twin. Here is my review for this blog.
18. Franz Ferdinand, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions (Domino)
Blame the lack of excitement about the fourth album from the Scottish quartet on the long wait since its last release, but the group once again delivers an irresistible, energizing, and stylish set that is as good as dance-rock gets, and as smart and witty, too. Here is my review for this blog.
17. Deltron 3030, The Event II (Universal)
Conceptual, arty, experimental, but never less than gritty, hard-driving, and real—alternative hip-hop at its best, from a supergroup that for once actually deserves that designation. Listen for a performance by and interview with Deltron 3030 on Sound Opinions in early 2014.
16. Yo La Tengo, Fade (Matador Records)
The profound difference between rock music that’s intimate and sounds that simply are quiet is that the former grows with every listen, while the latter all too easily slips into mere background music. Quiet brilliant from the long-running Hoboken, N.J.-based indie-rock heroes. Here is my review for this blog.
15. Solange, True EP (Terrible Records)
Beyoncé’s kid sister bridges the gap between the indie underground and mainstream dance-pop, taking inspiration from the early days of the post-punk/New Wave dance music emanating from Soho lofts in the early ’80s, and for my money besting anything her older sibling ever has given us. Here is my review for this blog.
14. Ty Segall, Sleeper (Drag City)
We’ve heard Orange County’s prolific, hyper-energetic, and indefatigable garage-rock noisemaker Ty Segall in his quiet, introspective, wiggy bard mode before, but never so movingly or melodically. Dealing with the death of his adopted father, the nadir of a period of family strife he calls “a weird, intense time,” the singer and songwriter found catharsis where he always has: in the studio. Here is my review for this blog.
13. Kelley Stoltz, Double Exposure (Third Man Records)
A delightful merger of San Francisco psychedelic pop, heartfelt folk-rock, New York art-punk minimalism, and Detroit garage-rock growl from an artist newly invigorated by his move from Sub Pop to Jack White’s Third Man Records. Here is my review for this blog.
12. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito (Interscope)
Karen O and the boys have lost none of their intensity on album number four, even as they continue to expand their sound with elements of dance music, gospel choirs, avant-garde hip-hop, and pretty much everything else and the kitchen sink, all without sacrificing the essential garage-rock snarl. Here is our review on Sound Opinions.
11. Richard Thompson, Electric (New West Records)
Folk-rock the way it should be done, but from one of the most underrated guitarists in rock history. Listen and learn, Mumford. Listen and learn. Here is my review for this blog.